Science Shorts: Fire, Climate, and Small Mammals

This month, we were fortunate enough to visit the beautiful Grampians National Park and chat with Deakin researcher, John White. John has worked on the ecology of the Grampians for around a decade, and his team's research has yielded surprising insights into the influence of climate on small mammal populations. 

Oddly similar to the boom and bust ecology found in arid ecosystems, the small mammals of our Grampians appear to be highly responsive to rainfall. During dry periods populations are low but they soon explode following high rainfall events. While this is interesting from a scientific perspective, it raises questions about the longevity of our small mammal populations in the Grampians. As our climate shifts and dry periods become more frequent and more enduring, the isolated populations 3-4 hours West of Melbourne may struggle to hang on. 

Adding to their struggle is the increasing risk of large, intense fires. Such disturbance events may outright kill our furry friends, or deprive them of the food or cover necessary for them to survive at high numbers. However, as John's PhD student Sussie is finding, there are some areas within the Grampians' vast expanses that tend to be less prone to burning and retain moisture during dryer periods. These wetter refuges offer our small mammals a heightened chance at survival  and may be the key to conserving these species in this ruggedly beautiful but precarious landscape. 


Wild Melbourne's Chris McCormack speaks with John White and his PhD student, Susannah Hale of Deakin University about their ecological research in the Grampians National Park. John's team are finding fascinating responses of small mammals to fire and climate in this amazing Victorian landscape.

Photos credit Robert Geary